Happy Ending is a short and snappy fringe play, set in an unassuming massage parlour in Fort Lauderdale. It timidly explores the blurred line between such labour and sex work. We also see how Andy, played by Sean Huddlestan, has used massage to become intimate with straight men and explore his sexuality.
The play is full of twists and turn and the time nips past, carefully sticking to the actual length of a massage appointment. Mr Miller, played by Michael Batten, sheepishly enters Andy’s massage studio and the dynamic between a seemingly macho Republican straight man and his gay masseuse plays out. The play touches on the US politics of the time (2016) which is an interesting layer of depth at first. It forces us to question ‘open-mindedness’ when Andy recoils from Mr Miller who admits he has a Make America Great Again bumper sticker on his car. Oddly, by the end of the play, this element of the plot is just thrown away once we learn more of Miller’s identity. It’s reduced to a cheap pun when he tells Andy, while humping him, ‘[Trump] is gonna fuck you for the next four years. This is no time to be alone.’
The play goes on to be far move lascivious. Massage oils are left glistening on Batten’s chest; towels tied around waists flap revealingly and finally, the two male actors fully expose their genitals. It takes the plot from intriguing and carefully considered to purely serving the purposes of titillation but the audience clearly enjoy this nonetheless.
Batten is a confident performer and I am totally convinced by his initial character as Mr Miller. It is a little unfortunate that he adopts such heightened campness towards the end of the play when assuming the role of a borderline-stalker gay man, but he is definitely consistently funny. Huddlestan is tense and awkward playing the masseuse who is steadfast in rejecting Miller’s advances. The physicality does align with the character’s personality but it also makes him a little unwatchable and is an odd directorial choice from Peter Bull.
At the end of the play, Andy’s principles and preferences are overcome extremely easily by Miller in a way that undermines the careful and tense build up of the rest of the play. With a sigh and ‘ok’, they run off into the sunset together — almost opting to do so naked. It makes for a very lighthearted ending and perhaps that is all we should expect from the play, rather than the political and painful exploration of sexuality that we at first catch a glimpse of. Is it a dramatic, funny romp? Yes! Do I expect to see so many penises in a church hall on a Monday evening? No.
Happy Ending is playing St Gabriel’s Church Hall Boy’s Club until 14 August 2021. For more information and tickets, see Happy Ending’s website on Ticketsource.